Students and faculty at Clemson University have developed two smartphone apps to provide practical, real-world assistance to help people with intellectual disabilities maintain employment and live independently. The ClemsonLIFE Task Analysis app aids individuals in the completion of everyday tasks for home and work, while the ClemsonLIFE Meal Planner app helps users develop a weekly meal plan, manage inventory in a pantry and populate a grocery list that ensures they buy required food items each week.
The apps were developed through a collaboration between the College of Education’s ClemsonLIFE program and the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences’ School of Computing. Joe Ryan is the founder and executive director of ClemsonLIFE, a program that provides postsecondary education for students with intellectual disabilities. He said the apps are the product of years of work with his students in mind, but their reach will go far beyond Clemson, helping individuals with disabilities everywhere gain employment and live more independently.
Zachary and Sam Buchanan on the Clemson University campus. (Photo by Ken Scar)
“At Clemson we don’t want to just focus on inclusivity for these students on a college campus; we want to prioritize getting these students ready for life and work in the outside world,” Ryan said. “These apps are tools we can give anyone with an intellectual disability to help them in a practical way every day of their life.”
Roy Pargas, associate professor emeritus in the School of Computing, led the technical aspects of the project devoted to producing the apps. He said the apps require parent or guardian support, at least initially, to input information regarding specific tasks or create meal sizes and preferences for each individual.
The task analysis app, for example, does not come preloaded with step-by-step instructions for generic tasks since this will vary with each person’s needs. According to Ryan, the app provides tremendous flexibility to the user and allows them to tailor instructions to the individual. This is critical since instructions for operating a dishwasher or microwave can differ across multiple brands with hundreds of models. A parent or guardian can load audio, video and photos for each step of a task, with all the information saved directly to the individual’s smartphone.
The task app also supports “geo-fencing,” which allows the app to pinpoint the student’s location. Factoring in location allows the app to limit the type and number of tasks the user will see based on location. If the student is at their job, home-related tasks are hidden from view and vice versa, thus preventing the app’s screen from becoming cluttered and confusing. Pargas said this consideration was one of several challenges that caused the technical team to re-evaluate its approach to properly meet the unique needs of individuals with intellectual disabilities.
“Accessibility features and things like visuals, reading ability and audio feedback were things we never had to consider before in this much detail,” said Joey Costa, a senior computer science student on the Creative Inquiry team working under Pargas. “It was rewarding to work with ClemsonLIFE students and special education doctoral students to build apps that are tailor made for a specific audience.”